Category Archives: motivation

Emotions and Motivations

I have written a series of posts about emotions and personality and regular readers will know my fascination and commitment to the eight basic emotions perspective. I have also written about the four fundamental drives/ motivations; as a matter of fact my Psychology Today blog was titled The Fundamental Four. Today I wish to connect the dots.

Till today, I myself was confused as to what is a motivational subsystem and what is an emotional subsystem and if my blog posts conflated the two and created confusions, I apologize. I have now come to believe that emotions are the reading by our mind of how our body is doing. This needs some unpacking.

The somatic marker theory of Damasio, and others, is inline with this formulation that there are brain areas that keep track of how the body is doing and if the body is say geared to flee a predator- then a corresponding feeling of fear may be felt by the mind. Feelings are conscious emotions and the subject of this post. The eight basic emotions to recap are Interest, Fear, Lust/ Wonder, Disgust, Love, Anger , Joy and Sadness. The emotions may even be conceptualized as indicators of bodily needs: eg. Disgust signifying the need of the body to close off / get away from source of disgust.

Motivations, or the basic fundamental drives, on the other hand are drives that help us cope with problems in living: These are to SURVIVE , REPRODUCE, TAKE-CARE-OF-YOUNG-ONES and to THRIVE. All the steps are essential to pass on our genes to the next generation- if say we don’t take care of our young ones then our genes do not live on. So evolution has built in these four basic drives in us. These drives are action-focused: they are intentional and *about* the world; they are mechanisms via which we get our needs met. They are primed action tendencies that tilt us to act one way or the other, out in the world.

Most of us when we think about motivation think of Maslow’s needs. They are conceptualized at a higher level- the level I am taking about is the most fundamental, the most basic. Panksepp has talked about that level, but he wrongly called such neurocircuits as affective subsystems, while they should be called drives/ motivational systems to reduce confusion.

Lets unpack this a bit. SURVIVE system in an ideal world should be about finding food and nutrition to grow and maintain ones’ bodily composition. Of course we don’t live in an ideal world, so predators loom large and survival also becomes about avoiding them. However the underlying drive/ need is the same to preserve, maintain and grow ones body. Some people have focused on maintaining bodily integrity or avoiding dangers/ predators as having primary significance and thus focused more on FEAR ; I however think that’s mistake. The drive is primarily about finding nutrients for self and because in the search for food, you are likely to come across predators, secondarily about avoiding them once you encounter them.

Thus the primary neurocircuit for SURVIVAL is the SEEKING system: it is primary in the sense that it is the default program of the self when it comes to survival. It primarily enabled foraging behavior, but since then has been coopted for finding knowledge (learning) etc too and is marked by curiosity, exploration, learning, pattern finding, meaning making etc.

While searching for food (either hunting or gathering) you are likely to come in contact with a predator; at that time only the FEAR/predator avoidance system kicks in and focuses actions and body for that specific task. At least that is the purpose for which this system evolved.

The primary neurocircuit for REPRODUCTION is LUST/Seducing system. When one is in the grip of this circuit/drive one flirts, seduces, and tries to mate with conspecifics.

While trying to copulate with as many con-specifics as possible, a danger of getting infected with STD looms large. My hunch is that DISGUST evolved as a means to avoid STD’s/ be picky and selective while choosing.

The primary neurocircuit for TAKE-CARE-OF-LOVED-ONES is CARE. It evolved so that parents can take care of their children, but sine then has been coopted for taking care of all vulnerable entities.

The secondary neurocircuit comes into play because of cuckolding. While one wants to take care of ones genuine offsprings, one doesn’t want to be cuckolded and displays aggression towards the weakling which in not of self. This is the RAGE circuit.

The primary neurociruit for THRIVING is PLAY. It evolved so that we can form social bonds/ rise up the hierarchy by building coalitions and alliances.

While playing and rising up the social ladder, there is a risk of aggression by the alpha male or the risk of losing existing ties and suffering losses. This manifests as the PANIC/ separation distress system.

How do the (eight basic) emotions and the (eight basic) motivations interact? It might be tempting to assume that each motivational circuit is associated with one emotion/ feeling; however that would be a mistake. We first need to understand that emotions come in pairs (interest-fear, wonder-disgust, love-anger and joy-sadness) ; we also need to appreciate that the motivational circuits form opponent processes such that if FEAR is activated, SEEKING is suppressed etc. with that background lets forge ahead.

Feelings modulate motivations/drives. They either initiate and sustain the corresponding motivational circuit or suppress and stop it. Thus they are either inhibitory or excitatory in their effect.

Take SEEKING. If your body is feeling interest (is in a state of interest) it is more likely to explore or activate the SEEKING system. On the other hand if the body is feeling fear, it will suppress the SEEKING system. And how does the body gets into a state of interest/ fear? In the most general case its by cognitive appraisal of outside events/ stimulus. Lets take novelty, say a rat placed in a novel environment. The rat can either see that novel environment as interesting and thus get curious and explore; or it can see the novelty as frightening, get fearful and stop exploring. Thus the cognitive appraisal we make induce emotions that either inhibit or excite the motivational circuits.

Lest take another example: Take PLAY. Feelings of joy will increase likelihood of playing; while being in a sad mood will decrease playful behavior. Or take PANIC: feelings of sadness will tilt the probability of panicking , while being in a joyful mood will buffer against panic.

Or take CARE . Appraising a vulnerable dependent/weakling as in group leads to feelings of love and compassion leading to activation of CARE; appraising the same person as outgroup leads to feelings of anger over why I need to support him/her and lead to suppression of CARE.

Or take LUST. Thinking someone as attractive leads to feelings of wonder about what the person is like and activate flirting/seducing behavior aka LUST. However, thinking of the person as unattractive/ugly leads to feelings of disgust and deactivation of LUST system.

I think by now, it should be clear how the emotions and motivations are connected. In the next post I will be extending this emotions/ motivations linkage forward to personality traits and psychological disorders.

I was inspired on this line of thought while doing the FutureLearn course ‘What Is A Mind’ by Mark Solms and would like to express my gratitude to him as well as the late Jaak Panksepp.

Parenting Styles: an SDT Informed Perspective

In my previous posts I have elaborated on SDT and how it provides insights as to the relation between motivation and personality and to the supportive contexts that satisfy basic needs and thus lead to well-being.

To recap, SDT, as extended by me, posits that there are four basic psychological needs that need to be satisfied for all human beings for them to be happy and flourishing. These needs are needs for autonomy or to be able to own and make one’s own choices; needs for competence or to be able to successfully excel at tasks; needs for relatedness or to be securely and intimately tied to others; and need for meaningfulness or to be able to create and bask in meaning and purpose.

SDT also posits that socio cultural contexts and situations are differentially related to well-being as they are differentiated in terms of how supportive or thwarting of basic needs they are. Today I wish to apply this lens to parenting and showcase how early (and ongoing) parent child interactions have different implications for current and future well-being of the child.

At the outset, I want to clarify that while my approach is inspired and steeped in SDT, it deviates considerably from the standard SDT model.

Standard SDT literature on parenting posits that if the parents are autonomy supportive, provide structure and are involved, then they are doing the right thing as this will lead to satisfactions of the basic psychological needs of the child and thus lead to healthy outcomes. the figure below shows what one means by these conditions of autonomy support, structure and involvement.

Parenting supports (from Coursera)

Let us start with involvement. And let us look at both good and bad parenting. I consider this to be about the Relatedness need. The input variable from parents is warmth or affection and the output variable is attachment with the parent. A good parent showers love, affection, care and warmth unconditionally; or in other words provides Unconditional Positive Regard (UCR) – this I posit leads to secure attachment in the child. However, some parents make their love and warmth contingent on outcomes; that is called Parenting Conditional Regard (PCR) and this I believe leads to insecure attachment. This is further of two types: a negative PCR where affection is primarily withdrawn in case the outcome is not desired, leading to avoidant attachment or deficient model of other. The other is positive PCR where affection is excessively endowed in case the outcome is desired, leading to dependent/anxious attachment or deficient model of self. While the good parent considers his/ her child unique, the bad parent either considers the child as having contingent worth or at the other extreme to be special and above everyone else. This parenting dimension is all about being available to the child when he needs and may be labeled emotional help by the parent.

Let us now look at autonomy support. This is clearly about the Autonomy need. The input variable from parents is socialization by either persuading or coercing and the output variable is internalization of rules and regulations. A good parent takes perspective of his/ her child, provides choices and offers rationale – all with an aim to influence and persuade without any overt or covert coercion; this leads to internalization of values and motives leading to autonomous motivation. In simple words, as the child ‘buys in’ rather than is forced to do something, he is more likely to feel an ‘origin’ and not a ‘pawn’. However, some parents try to control and coerce their child to behave in a particular way; this leads to controlled forms of motivation/ self regulation in the child. When rewards or showering of incentives is used to control the child it may lead to external regulation, while when punishments or withdrawal of incentives is used to control the child, then it may lead to introjected self regulation. While a good parent likes to negotiate with the child, a bad parent either threatens or bribes the child. This parenting dimension is all about shaping the child’s behavior by providing some motivational structure.

Consider next structure. This is about Competence. The input variable from parents is Just Enough Help/ scaffolding in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and the output variable I believe is the child’s mindset and sense of self efficacy. A good parent provides Just Enough Help or scaffolding in the ZPD so that the child is adequately challenged and his ability is able to meet the expectations; this leads to a grounded sense of self efficacy and possibly growth mindset, as the child is able to see how he is making progress with adequate support. However, some parents are not cognizant of/ insensitive to the ZPD and either push their children above the ZPD or are content with performance that is sub ZPD. This leads to problems with self efficacy and a fixed mindset. Those who try to stretch their child’s ability and set high expectations– and push their children to achieve those high expectations that are beyond their (current) abilities, may lead the child to develop a superiority complex and a fixed mindset characterized by impression management. On the other hand, those who do not challenge and support their child enough may give rise to children that suffer from inferiority complex or fixed mindset characterized by self-handicapping. While a good parent is available when needed, a bad parent is either helicoptering or putting too much pressure. To me this parenting dimension is all about providing instrumental help to the child in the right amount.

Lastly, let us also take a look at the need for Meaningfulness. The input variable this time is parents feedback about the child’s self and the output variable is the child’s internal self-guides. A good parent provides realistic feedback to child about his/ her abilities, etc in a non evaluative and informational format. This leads to the development of an actual self guide that is accurate and based on facts. Some parents however provide either sugar coated or needlessly bitter evaluative feedback to the child and this may lead to the development of discrepant self guides that are fictional and not in touch with reality. The parent who praises excessively and is say strengths based and focuses on what is present/ possible about the child will lead to the development of an ‘ideal’ self guide in the child. The parent who is excessively critical and deficit based and focuses on what is lacking/ needed in the child, will lead to the development of an ‘ought’ self guide in the child. While a good parent leads to realistic and in touch with self concepts, a bad parent leads to out of touch self concepts that don’t feel authentic.

That brings us to the end of my thesis that a good parent is warmly affectionate, non evaluative and informational when providing feedback, uses reason to influence and persuade rather than coerce and sets reasonable expectations for the child and supports him/ her is his/ her journey.

A note before we leave: all of us are good parents and bad parents at times; while I have used the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parents above my intention is to draw attention to our impact when we are acting as a good / bad parent and hopefully influence more and more parents to use better parenting techniques than they may be using or relying on currently.

Supportive Contexts for Growth and Development: an SDT Perspective

Self Determination Theory(SDT) posits that all humans require some nutriments to grow and develop; just like plants need nutriments like sunlight, water, nutrients etc to flourish, so do humans have some basic human needs for autonomy, competence, relatedness and meaningfulness (my addition) to develop and grow and thrive. If these needs are fulfilled (just like if the plants get sunlight , water and nutrients) then this leads to good outcomes like enhanced well being and optimal functioning and good relationships and purpose in life. However, if the needs are thwarted then ill-being and soured relationships, stagnation and nihilism may prevail.

SDT also posits that the sociocultural environment and situations and contexts can be more or less supportive of the basic psychological needs. If the sociocultural environment and situation/ context is more supportive of autonomy, competence, relatedness and meaning, then that leads to more growth and flourishing and better development over time.

Let’s just expand on this a little. We will consider basic psychological needs in infancy and childhood and see what activities or systems are involved in their satisfactions and what consequences it may have on the developmental trajectory.

Consider the need for autonomy; an infant/ child is typically exploratory and unless constrained exercises his/ her choice by exploring the environment. The parent has to set some limits on exploration to prevent harm and thus this conflicts with the child’s need for autonomy. Early on they learn that exploring unknown territories can lead to adverse outcomes and if parents are too permissive they quickly learn the emotion of fear. On the other hand they also have an intrinsic motivation associated with the emotion of interest that makes them find novel things and places attractive and hence worth exploring. If their need for autonomy is reasonably honored, they quickly form a concept of SELF that is distinct from caregiver. They realize, and start regulating, their emotions and an autonomy supportive environment leads to their emotional development. In terms of Erikson’s stage theories, they successfully navigate the autonomy vs shame and doubt stage.

Consider next the need for competence; an infant/ child typically likes to explore the limits of what they can do/ hope to do via play – both physical and symbolic. The parents/ adults typically provide some feedback on what is acceptable in terms of play to ensure that the right types of play are being indulged in to develop adult capability. For eg, if an infant tries to walk before crawling they will support the age appropriate crawling related play first. Early on infants/ children realize that playing in a free wheeling manner may lead to disappointment and sadness. On the other hand they also have an intrinsic motivation associated with the emotion of enjoyment that makes them find novel activities and objects interesting and worth playing with. If their need for competence is reasonably honored, they quickly become TASK-oriented, rather than ego oriented while indulging in any activity. They realize and start regulating their behaviors and a competence supportive environment leads to their physical and behavioral development. In terms of Erikson’s stage theories they successfully navigate industry vs inferiority stage.

Consider now the relatedness need; an infant/child is typically attuned to others and comes ready to be imprinted upon and have attachment with one or more caregivers. The infant/ child comes vulnerable and needy (the infant needs milk while the child needs say love) and greedy and the parent/ caregiver may regulate the care and attention and time they can devote to the child. Early on, when the needs are not met consistently or are contingent, the infant/ child learns to be (passive) aggressive and angry towards the attachment figure and learns to avoid contact. On the other hand the infant/child is driven by an intrinsic motivation associated with the emotion of love that makes them approach familiar people (parents/ teachers) and contexts(home/school) and worth building attachments with. If their need for relatedness is reasonably honored, they quickly become PEOPLE focused, considering people as ends rather than instrumental means to any outcomes.They realize and start regulating their relationships and a relatedness supportive environment leads to their social and moral development. In terms of Erikson’s stage theories they successfully navigate trust vs mistrust stage.

Lastly, consider the need for meaningfulness; an infant /child is typically a scientist-in-the-crib and comes ready to make sense of and interpret events and happenings and exercise agency and learn. The infant comes eager and curious and active and the parent may restrict some actions (like touching the genitals) that may lead to feelings of guilt and disgust in the infant/ child. On the other hand, the infant/ child is driven by an intrinsic motivation that is driven by the emotion of wonder and he/ she systemically and scientifically experiments with the surroundings and tries to find causal relations and have an impact and learn. If the need for meaning is reasonably honored, they quickly become WORLD focused, being ecological aware and seeing how they fit in. They realize and start regulating their cognition and a meaning supportive environment leads to their intellectual development. In terms of Erikson’s stage theories they successfully navigate initiative vs guilt stage.

In an nutshell, what I am proposing is that there are four systems revolving around exploration (autonomy), play (competence), attachment (relatedness) and learning (meaning) in the infants/ child that also give rise to the emotion pairs of fear/interest, sadness/enjoyment, anger/love and guilt/wonder that may sustain in adulthood also in a slightly transformed way. Also these may conceivable be related to the four major goals of Emotional well-being/positivity, Success/productivity, Morality/intimacy and Meaning/generativity.

I will rest my case here. In the next post I will actually go into what makes for an autonomy supportive, competence supportive, relatedness supportive and meaning supportive sociocultural context

Emotions and Motivations: an SDT perspective

I have blogged previously about personality and emotions and also personality and motivations, but haven’t made an explicit linkage between emotions and motivations; today I wish to rectify that and talk about how emotions and motivations are interconnected. I will be using the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) of human motivation to make my case.

SDT consists of as many as six mini-theories; we will focus on OIT and BPNT for the purposes of this post.

Organismic Integration Theory (OIT) posits that people act due to a variety of reasons. Some of these are intrinsic reasons (the activity/ task feels fun, pleasurable, energizing) while other are extrinsic reasons (someone asks us to do it, we do it to gain rewards/ avoid punishments). When someone is intrinsically motivated, they feel more autonomously regulated or in other words they feel more in control of the choices they make and activities they do and endorse these actions as emanating from the self. However, when one is extrinsically motivated they feel controlled in their choices and activities and may attribute their actions to the rewards/ punishment contingencies under which they are working.

People indulge in all types of activities, only a small part of which is for intrinsic reasons such as the activity being fun and interesting. We need to work, to pay the bills, and though the activity is performed primarily to gain external rewards (pay), the reasons for the same can be internalized to various extent. OIT posits that the more integrated to self and internalized we make the reasons for doing an activity that is primarily or initially driven by external regulation, the more autonomous the regulation will become and less controlled it will feel.

For e.g., I may do my work properly due to fear of loss of job or expectation of a pay hike and my motivation is external and I am externally regulated. This type of motivation is the most controlled. I may also do my work properly because I feel guilty on doing a shoddy job and displeasing my supervisor- here I have internalized the motive as emanating from within- feelings of guilt- and hence this will feel less controlled and more autonomous than external regulation. This is introjected regulation. I may also do my work properly because I think that’s the right thing to do, maybe to support my family – I identify with and accept that part of my life. Thus my motivation for work would be Identified motivation and will feel even more autonomous. Finally, I may do my work properly because I am a conscientious/ honest person and this fits in with my notion of who I am- I can identify with this motivation/ reason and integrate with my self concept. This form of Integrated motivation is the most autonomous of all, barring intrinsic motivation, which feels the most autonomous, because you don’t need to internalize any external reasons.

Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT) on the other hand claims that all humans have three basic psychological needs- the need for autonomy ( being able to be volitional and endorse ones actions), the need for competence (being able to be effective at a task) and need for relatedness (being able to belong and have intimate, satisfying connections with others). When these needs are satisfied, a person thrives and works on optimal level, when these needs are thwarted a person languishes and may have ill-being.

There is some interaction between OIT and BPNT. The more a person acts from autonomous motivations (feeling free and volitional), rather than controlled motivations (feeling pressured and compelled) the more his or her basic needs will be satisfied and thus the more happier and well-functioning he/she will be.

The above was the standard SDT formulations; I want to propose some changes/ modification to the same. To start with, as many others have proposed, I want to propose a new basic psychological need- the need for meaning. This need consists of both the need to find meaning and to lead a meaningful life- the need for both coherence and contribution in one’s life. Thus one would be driven by a need for comprehending the world and find in some inherent meaning in it; one would also be driven to add meaning to that world by being generative and making an impact. Just like other needs, the satisfaction of this need for meaning will lead to positive well-being, while frustration of this need will lead to ill-being.

The second change I want to propose is that just like extrinsic motivation is split into four types- External, Introjected, Identified, and Integrated, based on how autonomous/ controlled it is , we also differentiate between different types of intrinsic motivations- Intrinsic motivation driven by competence, Intrinsic motivation driven by meaning, Intrinsic motivation driven by relatedness and finally Intrinsic motivation driven by autonomy. I believe, and this is an empirical question, that even Intrinsic motivations of the four types will differ in the amount/ quality of autonomous regulation.

Now, that we have laid the groundwork, let me go straight to the main thesis of this post viz that emotions and motivations are connected in a very systematic manner. To illustrate my point, I will be using my eight basic emotions theory. To recall, the basic emotions are Fear, Disgust/guilt, Anger, Sadness, Interest/ courage, Wonder, Love and Joy. These emotions come in opposing pairs- Fear/ Interest, Disgust/ Wonder, Anger/ Love and Sadness/Joy. My thesis is that the motivations too come in pairs- External/ Intrinsic with competence; Introjected/ Intrinsic with meaning; Identified/Intrinsic with relatedness; and finally Integrated/ Intrinsic with autonomy. Also these motivation pairs correspond to the emotion pairs in the same order.

Lets start with External regulation. The threat of punishment is one mechanism that is active here, resulting plausibly in an emotion of Fear. Also when competence need, which is associated with this motivation pair is frustrated, then one is likely to feel incompetent and thereby suffer from anxiety based psychopathology , which is associated with emotion of Fear.

Consider on the other hand Intrinsic motivation with Competence. The exploratory drive or opportunity within challenge, is one mechanism active here, resulting plausibly in the emotion of Interest / courage. Also when competence, which is associated with this motivation pair, becomes a focal concern to the exclusion of balance with other needs, then one falls victim to obsessive passion and is thereby may even suffer from obsession and compulsions related psychopathology which is associated with emotion of Interest.

Next consider Introjected regulation. The incomplete internationalization is typically engendered via feelings of Guilt etc. Also when meaning need, associated with this motivation pair, is frustrated, one is likely to feel insignificant/ disillusioned and thereby suffer from addiction/ substance use based psychopathology, which is associated with emotion of guilt/ disgust.

On the other hand, Intrinsic motivation with Meaning leads to curiosity and sense of Wonder. When meaning need associated with this takes over to the exclusion of other needs one consequence could be dissociation based psychopathology associated with emotions of wonder.

Consider next Identified regulation– here at times there is compartmentalizing of self leading to frustration and Anger. When relatedness need , which is related to this particular pair, is frustrated it results in feelings of alienation leading to psychopathology associated with hostility, which is associated with the emotion of anger.

Intrinsic motivation with relatedness on the other hand leads to feelings of belonging and Love. When this need is focused on exclusively however, this may lead to excessive valuing of ingroups and prejudice towards outgroups.

Integrated regulation, where one’s self is in alignment and yet one is controlled and not fully autonomous, may lead to feelings of loss and Sadness. When autonomy need associated with this is frustrated, it results in feelings of being controlled and may result in depressive psychopathology, itself associated with sadness.

Finally, Intrinsic motivation with autonomy, leads to feelings of fun, play and Joy. When this need for autonomy becomes a predominant need however to exclusion of others one may get so charged up and free wheeling as to become manic, a pathology associated with emotion of joy.

I have delineated above based on strong theoretical grounds. There is some empirical support too, but more work needs to happen. This recent study for eg shows that negative emotions like fear and anger lead to loss in feelings of agency. I know that agency is not the same as controlled vs autonomous regulation, but the findings are tantalizing.

To me the emotion pair, motivation pair linkage makes perfect sense. Do let me know if you are aware of any research studies exploring on similar lines?

The Four Needs Theory: Building on McClelland

McClelland had formulated a theory of three basic needs: Need for achievement, need for affiliation and need for power. He had related this to work context, though these needs are generally applicable. While the need for achievement is all about accomplishments, be it in comparison to other people,  or in comparison to one’s own standards,  need for affiliation is about relating with others and being a part of a group; while need for power is  the need to influence others or the group in a desire to make an impact.

In the last post we had seen that achievement goals/ needs can be bifurcated into Performance needs (looking good and comparing with others) and Mastery needs (getting better and comparing with oneself); both of which can be further bifurcated along approach/ avoidance lines. This post will build from there and include Affiliation and Power needs in the framework.

A survey of literature shows that Affiliation needs can also be bifurcated into two correlated factors: one factor is the need for intimacy and can be considered approach directed, in the sense we are motivated by the hope of achieving interpersonal closeness. The other may be be called need for affiliation-avoidance type, which is primarily motivated by a fear of rejection; you want to become a part of the group as you fear that if the group rejects you, you are no good – so you want to avoid being rejected by the group to maintain your self image and hence are motivated to seek contact. Taken together these needs for affiliation ensure cooperation in the group.

Affiliation needs have their root in childhood attachment. Securely attached people have a affiliation- approach need and seek intimacy. Insecurely attached seek affiliation from a fear of rejection.

Another survey of literature on power needs shows that Power needs are also of two types:  Personal power (where the focus is on personal strength and avoiding appearing weak) ans institutional power (where power is sought to make an impact).

To sum up, there are four primary needs or motives, each with two sub types:

  1.  Performance : need for results. Success orientation.  Breeds competition.  Corresponding SDT need – Autonomy.
    1. performance-avoidance: comparison with others (either just ahead of us, or miles ahead of us, the former case is of keeping with the Jonses, the latter case is to explain our inevitable failures) .
    2. performance- approach: comparison with others who are somewhat better than us, goal is of medium challenge.
  2. Mastery: need for self improvement. Happiness orientation. Breeds Excellence. Corresponding SDT need – mastery.
    1.   mastery-avoidance: comparison with an ought self guide (either insignificant ought discrepancy or a major gaping hole in ought self guide, the latter to justify the gap and our failure to bridge it)
    2. mastery- approach: comparison with an ideal self guide  – something within reach and inspiring.
  3. Affiliation: need for closeness and group membership: Morality orientation. Breeds cooperation. Corresponding SDT need – relatedness.
    1. affiliation- avoidance: fear of rejection instrumental here. One approaches either a very easily available person (dependent/ clingy) or a very distant person (avoidant)
    2. affiliation- approach: hope of acceptance is instrumental here. Ones target is someone who is decently difficult to  approach (securely attached)
  4.   Power: need for influence and impact: Meaning orientation. Breeds leadership. Corresponding need : Purpose.
    1. power- avoidance: fear of personal weakness drives this. One either seeks power over easily dominated person or over an indomitable person/ group.
    2. power- approach: drive to make an impact.  One seeks power over a group for the benefit of the group.

Of course, the above needs can be correlated to personality traits. In the last post we saw correlations iwth OCEAN for the Achievement needs. We will refer to the HEXACO model in this post:

Performance- avoidance: E (Emotionality)

Performance- approach: C (Conscientiousness)

Mastery – avoidance (eXtraversion)

Mastery – approach: (Openness)

Affiliation- avoidance ( Agreeableness)

Affiliation – approach ( Honesty-Humility)

I believe time has come to merge emotions and motives (needs) and fold them into a common theory of personality that is steeped in traits. I m hopeful of this approach. Hope you too concur.

Personality and Goals

Goals, that people strive for, make an important part of a person’s personality- be it the daily strivings or the personal projects. However, this post is not about goals at that level of personality.

Goals can be classified as approach goals or avoidance goals based on whether one wants to achieve a particular positive outcome or is more motivated by avoiding a particular negative outcome. They can also be classified as mastery or performance goals based on whether one wants to learn and master the area and satisfy ones internal standards or whether one wants to meet external standards and is driven by appearing smart and capable. The roots of these goals, and underlying motivations, lie in Carol Dweck’s theory of growth and fixed mindsets.

So basically combining the two concepts above, we have four combinations:  Mastery-approach where one is motivated to grow and inspired by a future vision of oneself; Mastery -avoidance where one is motivated to maintain functioning and the desire to not fail to live up to earlier performance or past image; Performance – approach where one wants to perform better than other people; and Performance- avoidance where one wants to avoid performing worse than others.

In addition to this, there is promotion and prevention regulatory focus theory of goals and motivation that posits that we all have either a promotion focus, whereby we want to move towards goals and are eager or prevention focus wherein we want to avoid outcomes and are vigilant. These regulatory focus are a result of the discrepancy between actual and ideal and ought selves. The self discrepancy theory by Higgins et al posits that each of us have a few guides guiding our behavior-  ideal self is the self that we aspire to (a future vision) while ought self is what we have internalized as our duties, obligations etc. While ideal selves are more congruent with promotion focus, ought self discrepancy reduction leads to prevention focus.

Some of you might be seeing where I am getting from here. We are moving here form goals to trait level. What I propose is that while Mastery-approach goals lead to and are congruent with Promotion focus (as traditionally defined by Higgins), Mastery -avoidance leads to and follows from Prevention focus; similarly Performance-approach goals are what are typically considered as Avoidance motivation in literature ( Elliot et al) and Performance-  avoidance goals as related to Avoidance motivation. Thus it makes sense to consider and be sensitive to four types of motivational trait constructs- Promotion focus, Prevention Focus, Approach motivation and Avoidance motivation and to see them as distinct from Goals per se.  This is akin to the state -trait distinction in case of affective terms.

One can also correlate these motivational dispositional terms to Self determination theory. Basically, it appears common sense that mastery -approach goals are quite intrinsically motivating;  mastery -avoidance goals probably more identified motivation, but still autonomous. When we move to Performance goals the motivation becomes more controlled. Performance -approach goals driven by introjected motivation while Performance- avoidance goals to extrinsic motivation.

So how do these four motivational traits stand in comparison to the other well known personality traits and constructs?   This is an empirical question to be settled and part of it has been settled in this paper [pdf] by Elliot and Thrash.

Basically Elliot et al using factor analysis, both EFA and CFA showed that personality constructs like Extraversion, positive emotionality and  BAS cluster together and are related to Mastery goals (they did not differentiate between mastery -approach and mastery -avoid); while Neuroticism, negative emotionality and BIS go together and are related to Performance-avoidance.  These latter 3 were also related to Performance approach goals, as were the former 3. The 2 underlying factors they theorized as depicting approach and avoidance motivation/ temperament.

I believe they would have got better and clearer results if they has used more constructs than just E/N and +ve emotioanlity, -ve emotionality, or BAS/BIS and also included C/E/A and constraint/disinhibition and FFFS too in the factor analysis and also split Mastery goals.

If so, I conjecture the following four factors:

  1.  Promotion focus: driven by ideal self discrepancy and mastery motivations comparing with oneself and one’s future version aspired to. When people work with this focus they experience positive emotionality, are open to experience and are motivated by intrinsic motives (SDT).
  2. Prevention focus: driven by ought self discrepancy and mastery motivations comparing onself to past performances by self and identified duties and obligations. The people with this focus experience positive emotionality, are Extraverted and the BAS drives their behavior.
  3. Approach Motivation: driven by external comparisons and performance motivations to achieve something.  High in Conscientiousness, experience constraint and are driven by BIS with introjected motivation.
  4. Avoidance Motivation: driven by external comparison to avoid bad outcomes. High in Neuroticism , experience negative emotionality and the FFFS drives behavior. They have extrinsic motivations.

This, of course, remains to be empirically proved.

Research Summaries: Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals

Today’s research summary is based on this paper which Angela Duckworth co-authored with Chris Peterson and colleagues, and where she first introduced her concept of grit and operationalized it by introducing the Grit Scale.

Monkey Grit

Monkey Grit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. One common thread running thorough Angela’s research is a (harmonious) obsession with finding out what leads to great achievement. A lot of earlier research in psychology has focused on the role of talent/ intelligence in high achievement, and that role is well established.
  2. Terman, for example, studied a group of highly gifted children in a famed longitudinal study which found that those who rose to prominence were more likely to exhibit “Perseverance, Self-Confidence, and Integration toward goals”, rather than mere high IQ. So, cognitive factors are just a part of the picture, and do not explain the whole picture.
  3. The other factors that  could influence high performance have been variously named as non-cognitive, personality or motivational factors. Among these, the Big Five personality trait of Conscientiousness keeps emerging in research linking personality with high achievement and work outcomes. However, conscientiousness may be multi-faceted with the achievement oriented facets that make one work hard, try to do a good job, and completes the task at hand, be more closely related to job performance than the dependability oriented facets that make one self-controlled and conventional.
  4. Thus Angela thought it worthwhile to introduce a new concept called Grit. which could explain why some people who have equal or lesser talent succeed over others who might have greater talent/ intelligence.   This is how they define Grit:
  5. We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.

  6. Grit is different from Conscientiousness, but correlated with the achievement side of Conscientiousness. To me, conscientiousness seems to comprise both Grit and Self-control. Grit is all about staying course driven by long-term super-ordinate goals,  while self-control is more about not getting distracted and managing one’s impulses and emotions in the service of the currently activated goal. On can think of grit as sustained self-control in the service of a constant non-changing goal. The important thing to note is Grit is different from both self-control and conscientiousness.
  7. Across six studies Angela found that Grit predicted successful outcomes over and above Intelligence. Point to note that Grit and IQ/ intelligence are typically uncorrelated or even negatively correlated. The latter finding is explained by the fact that people having less IQ/ Talent may need to exercise and develop Grit more fully to achieve good outcomes. Three of these studies were longitudinal and the rest cross-sectional.
  8. Study 1 & 2 validated a 12 item Grit scale, which contained two orthogonal factors passion ( or consistency of interest) and perseverance of effort. The incremental validity of grit in predicting educational achievements (an outcome variable), over and above, IQ and conscientiousness, in a cross-sectional population was also ascertained. It was also found that older people were more gritty.
  9. In study 3, they looked at undergrads at UPenn and found that grit predicted overall CGPA and explained variance over and above that explained by SAT scores(proxy for intelligence).
  10. Study 4 and 5 looked at west point cadets (the analog of NDA cadets in India) and found that Grit predicted who made it through the beast barracks (the first summer training) better than self-control etc.  However, for those who stayed, self-control predicted better the CGPA at end of year one and MPS (Military performance score).
  11. Study 6 looked at National spelling bee participants and found that Grit predicted who will make to which final round.  Also the effect of grit was mediated by the study time or hours participants put on weekend preparing for this and  number or prior participation in the competition ( the more gritty you are the more likely you are to participate in more prior competitions and the more no. of prior participation, the greater your odds of success)
  12. Overall, this paper gave direction to a whole new field and established Grit as a valid concept with important outcomes and correlates.

If your interest has been piqued, you can check the full article here.

Different Frames, Different Outcomes, Different Emotions

Most readers I presume are familiar with the work of Kahneman and Tversky on how statements framed in either loss or gain lead to different outcomes; however this is not a post about prospect theory. Instead this is about a different type of framing: whether the goals you set for yourself are in terms of approach or avoidance, and is loosely based around the work of AJ Elliot as also that of Higgins around prevention and promotion focus.

English: Emotions Q-sort

English: Emotions Q-sort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One can set an approach goal or a goal with promotion focus (I’m using these interchangeably in this post though there are important theoretical differences) wherein one is very much focused on achieving a positive outcome. Or one could set an avoidance goal or a goal with prevention focus whereby one is overtly focused on not achieving or ending up in a negative state.

To illustrate by way of an example, if I am studying and appearing for an exam in near future, I may phrase my approach goal as ‘I want to pass in this exam’ or I may phrase my avoidance goal as ‘I don’t want to fail in this exam’. From a lay reading both goals may seem equivalent but they are not. They have different repercussions in terms of emotions felt while pursuing the goals etc.

Research has also shown that some people have a more approach oriented temperament and other more avoidance or preventive focused.

Avoidance goals are typically related to your fears and anxieties while approach goals to what you look forward to and are excited about.

Consider a scenario where you don’t currently have any overarching, activated goal. If you frame this lack of goals in avoidance terms that ‘I don’t have anything to be worried about’ you are likely to feel calm; on the other hand phrasing it as ‘I don’t have anything to look forward to’ will lead to you likely feeling bored.

Thus, while presence of an avoidance goal leads to fear, an absence of the same leads to calm; the presence of an approach goal leads to excitement/ Interest/ curiosity while the absence of same leads to boredom.

Another important theory by Carver and Scheier stresses the emergence of emotions as indicators of progress towards goals- with positive emotions arising if you are making progress toward the goal and negative emotions if you are not making sufficient progress.

Applying the same to the two different framing of goals, if you are progressing towards an approach goal say ‘I am likely to pass the exam’ you are likely to feel quite happy about the fact; however if you are far from achieving the approach goal say ‘I am unlikely to pass the exam’, you may become sad. Similarly, if you are progressing well towards an avoidance goal (‘I am likely to not fail’) you may feel relief; while if you are not making progress towards the avoidance goal (‘I am likely to fail’ ) then you will feel much stress.

Next consider the avoidance/ approach goal to be framed in zero-sum or non-zero sum game terms. A zero sum game is where if one person wins then the other loses; a non zero sum game is where there can be multiple winners and nobody’s payoff gets diminished due to others winning.

A zero sum avoidance game sees either winner or loser in a social situation and believes that the only way to not fail is to not let others succeed too and may phrase its goal like ‘I don’t want to be the loser’.  This may justifiably lead to feelings of anger and aggression when interacting socially with other con-specifics while trying to pursue this goal; On the other hand a  non-zero sum avoidance goal assumes that it is possible that everyone may fail or everyone may win and the attitude is more compassionate towards con-specifics who are all suffering and focused on not failing. The phrasing of goal is slightly different ‘I don’t want to be a loser’.

A zero sum approach game again sees either a winner or a loser in any social interaction but is focused on winning ‘I want to be the winner’ . This leads to justifiable competitiveness; a non zero sum reading of the same situation ‘I want to be a winner’ leads to much more altruistic and kind emotions and behaviors.

I can vouch for this from personal experience too- when I was preparing for JEE I just wanted to be one of the top 100 and did not look at my friends who were also preparing as competitors but as collaborators- because I wanted to be ‘a’ winner, not ‘the’ winner.

The last set of emotions tied to these different framing are when one either satisfactorily completes the avoidance/ approach goal or fails to do so.

Consider satisfactory completion of an avoidance goal- ‘I did not fail’ – because the initial goal if farmed negatively one may be surprised at the results; if however on does fail one may be filled with disgust.

Satisfactory completion of an approach goal – ‘I passed’ may lead to feelings of wonder/ awe/ gratitude while unsatisfactory completion or failure- I did not pass’  may lead to feelings of shock etc.

Thus, I believe there are at least 16 different types of emotional responses eight tied to approach goals and eight to avoidance goals- approach goals related emotions are excitement/ boredom; happiness/sadness; competition/ kindness; and wonder/ shock. Avoidance related emotions are fear/ calm; relief/ stress; aggression/ compassion ; and disgust/ surprise.

This of course is based on theory as well as my reading of some empirical work done on emotions related to approach/ avoidance. However, there is a lot of scope for additional research to validate these predictions- I hope someone out there does do some research around this framework.

The Four Major Goals of Life revisited

I wrote about the four major goals in life on my psychology today blog quite some time back and want to revisit it today in the light of reading Susan Wolf‘s ‘Meaning in life and why it matters’ which is a very accessible and engaging, as well as a short, read.

A Good Dog Can Bring Happiness to Your Life

A Good Dog Can Bring Happiness to Your Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Susan Wolf claims that there are two usual suspects when it comes to explaining our major striving and actions. The reason why we do something may be to enhance our self-interest (the egoistic principle) or the reasons may lie in ethical and moral considerations (the altruistic principle). In the former case we are driven by an overarching goal of maximizing happiness (for ourselves) and in the latter case we are driven by moral principles that are impartial and do not lace any special emphasis on our own interests. For example, if we are utilitarian in our ethics, we may be driven by the moral imperative of maximizing happiness(utility) of maximum people/ entities.

Thus, happiness and morality are two important goals/ value systems and the corresponding reliance on self-interest or impartial moral imperatives, respectively, makes us decide on our course of action. However, she also claims that this picture is far from complete. Not all our reasons are reasons of self-interest or morality, but some are reasons of love.

To illustrate by way of an example, consider the fact that I may care for my wife when she is sick. Now, this act is neither purely due to self-interest nor can it be considered purely a moral act- there may be better ways of acting morally- maybe some other sick man deserves my help more. But I care for her out of love. And caring for her provides and adds meaning to my life.

Thus, Susan introduces a third phenomena in the mix – meaningfulness. When people act out of reasons of love they make their life meaningful. Now as per Susan this acting out of reasons of love could be love directed towards a person or towards an activity. Thus I may be passionate about psychology or blogging and may devote my life to such an activity and as that activity provides me fulfillment and also adds value to the world, it is meaningful. Her definition of meaningfulness is where subjective attraction meet objective value- you find something or some person worthy of your love (attractive) and are drawn towards it such that you engage in such a way as to make a positive contribution/ difference.

Meaning as per Susan is due to reasons of love -either for a person or an activity -she doesn’t distinguish between the two, and in my opinion causes some confusion. IMHO, its important to make a distinction between acting out of love for a person and acting out of love of an activity. Also she mentions two conceptualization of meaning- one driven by feelings of fulfillment and the other by getting involved in something bigger than oneself.

How does all this relate to the four major goals I have talked about previously? To recap, the goals are:

  1. Happiness (maximizing pleasure and ‘self’ focus)
  2. Morality/Integrity (living morally and ‘group’/community focus)
  3. Meaning (living authentically and ‘other’/ family focus)
  4. Success (making an impact and ‘task’/ work focus)

Susan has already delineated how happiness and morality are the two primary reasons for our actions, and she introduced meaning as the third major one; however, imho meaning (living authentically in accordance with ones values )  needs to be differentiated from living successfully or making an impact in the world. Meaning is intimately tied to others- our lives can never be meaningful out of context- they are meaningful only in relation to others appraisal of them as such and also our appraisal of them as such. Meaning is inter-subjective. It lies in between.  If happiness can be deemed more or less subjective (only you can know if you are truly happy) and success as more or less objective (there can be objective criteria on which to measure the success of a life) , meaning is more about a common inter-subjective appraisal (whether both parties found the interaction meaningful). I caring for my wife is meaningful both to me and to my wife and its power lies in that inter-subjectivity. Morality on the other hand can be said to be neither objective nor subjective but transcending all.

Thus, while happiness can only be known from a first person perspective, and success judged accurately only from third person perspective, perhaps meaning can be formulated best from a second person perspective – that of the other!

Interestingly, while happiness is more about living in the present, and success more about what you have already achieved in the past, Meaning in my view is directed towards the future- if I am engrossed in meaningful  relationship or project, I am looking forward to how the relationship or the project grows. For example, to sensitize my clients to the importance of meaningfulness, I ask them to think about their epithet or what they would like to be written on their tombstone-   this exercise inevitably makes them reflect on what is actually meaningful to pursue (relationships) and what can be ignored or de-emphasized (workaholism) .

in summary, we are driven by four types of reasons or motivations – reasons of self-interest, reasons of morality/altruism, reasons of love for individuals and reasons of engrossment in activities/ projects. Thus the four major goals of life worth striving for Happiness, Morality, Meaning and Success!

PS: you may also like my Times of India blog post about differentiating happiness from meaning.

To thrive in life invest in these 8 psychological constructs

We all want to excel in life and various psychological constructs have been proposed that can help us in this mission. These range from grit(mostly used in academic domain) to PsyCap (mostly used in work domain) to the concept of deliberate practice (mostly used in niche domains).

That's My Goal

That’s My Goal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grit has been proposed to be made up of passion and perseverance; passion itself being made up of investment of time and effort regularly in activities that one finds important, loved and self-defining (i.e. one identifies one’s self with the passionate activity).

PsyCap is made up of Confidence (self-efficacy), Hope, Resilience and Optimism; Hope itself being made up of Agency (goal directed energy) and Pathways (planning to meet goals).

So with so many constructs floating around which ones are basic and which ones derivative?

I propose the following eight basic psychological constructs, which if focused upon can lead to well-being and success in life:

  1. Purpose: Everyone should start with defining their life purpose. Once defined, it provides a general direction and decision-pulse for all your decisions, actions etc.  It is the super-ordinate goal of your life and all other goals should be subordinate and aligned to this.  A firm commitment to this purpose provides the motivation/ drive to achieve and flourish. This acts as the ‘narrow’ polarity of the fundamental four ABCD model by restricting our choices, once purpose is determined and defined. This is the end goal.
  2. Pathways : If purpose is the end goal, pathways are the means or subordinate goals and strategies to achieve that super-ordinate goal.  It enables one to flexibly take stock of the progress towards the end goal and adjust or change the means goal to continue momentum towards the end goal. As Angela Duckworth says ‘ “Go, go, go until you can’t go anymore…then turn left.” This acts as the ‘broad’ polarity of the fundamental four ABCD model by expanding our repertoire of responses.
  3. Positive narratives: We all tell stories to ourselves and our view of past is not objective but actively constructed. And its better to tell positive stories to ourselves than otherwise. This is related to learned optimism. As per Seligman, one should make stable, internal and pervasive/ generic attributions about positive events and temporary, external and specific attributions about negative events. This eventually enables us to  have a positive image of our abilities in the past and leads to hope and self confidence that we will be able to achieve in future too. This is related to ‘other’ polarity: how we interpret what happens to us via others .
  4. Positive self-belief: Call it confidence, call it self-efficacy or call it even agency ; this is belief in one’s own ability and efforts to lead to positive outcomes.  This is obviously related to ‘self’ and is cognitive in nature.
  5. Perseverance: This is being in for the long haul. When set upon achieving a goal, time is not a constraint, and one would continue investing time into the pursuit; if setbacks happen, one rebounds or emerges more determined. One does not change one’s goal or strategy easily. This is also related to resilience. This is ‘passive ‘ polarity as one reacts to setbacks / obstacle when they happen, but otherwise just continues investing time and energy. This is behavioral in nature.
  6. Practice: This is ensuring that efforts are not a constraint when it comes to achieving the goal. One is willing to work hard to archive ones goals and one actively and regularly and diligently puts in that effort. This again is ‘active’ and behavioral in nature. The willingness to put in hard work can again be developed like other constructs.
  7. Passion: This is not the regular definition of passion; by passion here I mean a consistency of interests and a fascination with a subject. It includes things like not getting distracted or waylaid by competing interests and also not letting you interest wane or fade over the time. It is obviously related to emotions and is the ‘pain’ polarity as an obsessive passion may sometime lead to pain.
  8. Playfulness: This is about having a playful attitude when working towards your goals;  it includes things like enthusiasm towards the goal, enjoying the journey by having flow experiences and being engaged and curious. This too is emotional in nature and is related to ‘pleasure’ polarity.

Some other construct are a composite of these; hope is a composite and so is deliberate practice or resilience.

Similarly, there are other constructs like task commitment ( like perseverance, endurance, hard work, but also self-confidence, perceptiveness and a special fascination with a special subject) which cover almost all of these.

I believe the above has great utility and can be a good framework for studying non-ability , non-personality factors that lead to exceptional performance. I am excited and look forward to other people adopting this model for their research and conceptualizations.